It’s time once again for one of the nation’s largest World War II reenactments to commence in Rockford. Here’s what you need to know about what’s happening this year.
Once again, Midway Village Museum will host what has become one of the largest World War II reenactments of its kind in America.
World War II Days is set to take place Saturday, Sept. 21, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, Sept. 22, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., on the 148-acre museum campus at 6799 Guilford Road, Rockford.
Entertaining and educational, World War II Days offers visitors the chance to learn about one of the most influential eras in world history. Called the “war to end all wars, “ World War II engaged the entire globe to some extent, and its impact is still being felt today.
One of the most compelling reasons why thousands are attracted to Midway Village Museum’s event is how the war affected the greater Rockford area, not only with Camp Grant and local soldiers fighting for America and freedom, but also for the families who stayed at home to prepare, defend and keep the country’s industry and agriculture thriving.
“World War II impacted the Rockford region in so many ways,” says Lonna Converso, director of marketing and social media at Midway Village Museum. “This military reenactment is an educational opportunity to learn more about the war effort overseas and on the homefront, and it’s the museum’s largest special event of the year.”
Over the years, the event has grown into one of the largest reenactments of its kind, with authentic equipment including vehicles, tanks and many other artifacts.
“Visitors will truly be amazed as they walk through and view the encampments the reenactors create to depict life as a soldier,” Converso says. “More than 1,200 soldiers and civilians will participate.”
Along with the reenactment adventures, Midway Village Museum has also invited several presenters to share their unique perspectives on World War II. Among them, author John Ulferts offers vivid insight into the reality of war through his book, “Always Remember – World War II Through Veterans’ Eyes.”
“I was teaching through the Department of Defense Dependent Schools in Germany in 1990,” Ulferts says. “We visited concentration camps that really brought home what war was like for so many. At Auschwitz, we saw rooms filled with human hair, toys taken from children. It drives home what was at stake.”
From this experience, Ulferts started writing letters to WWII veterans to thank them. Before long, 140 veterans had responded, 20 of them Medal of Honor recipients. Based on Ulferts’ correspondence, he decided to write their stories.
“One talk will be on daily life during the war, and a second will focus on readings from chapters,” Ulferts says. “On Sunday, I will speak on the liberators who freed the concentration camp prisoners.”
One of those liberators was a Rockford resident, Art Sander, who was shot down over Germany, captured and imprisoned in Buchenwald.
“He was captured by Hitler’s SS,” Ulferts says. “Art was one of 68 such fliers singled out by Hitler, who called them the terror fliers.”
While war raged in Europe, Africa and the Pacific, the American homefront was deeply involved in programs and training aimed at enabling those who remained behind to aid in any and every way they could.
In Rockford, the war efforts came closer to home with a little-known, but valuable, troop of dedicated women known as the Women’s Ambulance Safety Patrol (WASP). Museum volunteer Mary Rose says this group of about 300 Rockford-area women played a key role in keeping the community confident in America’s might.
Presenting at 4 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday, Rose will share her research on the WASP.
“They began in 1940 and created the first ambulance safety program in the nation,” she says. “What set them apart from all the others is that the women also became trained mechanics.”
Rose, who also volunteers at Veterans Memorial Hall in downtown Rockford, stumbled upon the WASP while working in that organization’s archives.
“I had no idea [WASP] existed,” she says. “You’ll find nothing about them online.”
Through the valuable information captured in this scrapbook, Rose learned that WASP was mentioned about 240 times in Rockford newspapers during the 1940s.
“They also participated in parades and actively trained at Camp Grant,” she adds. “My goal in making these presentations is to honor their spirit and memory. Sadly, I have been able to find only about 200 names of the 300 who were involved. I’m hoping to find more through this presentation.”
Additionally, on Friday, Sept. 21, Midway Village Museum opens its doors and grounds to a preview of the WWII event aimed especially at school students. The Friday event allows for a backstage look at how the event is developed. Educators may arrange for field trips on Friday, but they must call ahead to make arrangements.
Friday also brings a new event, World War II Days Behind The Lines Tour, which provides a special sneak preview for museum members. It begins at 5:30 p.m. and offers a glimpse of life behind the lines at the World War II reenactors camps scattered around the museum grounds. Interaction with the reenactor soldiers and education about life behind the battle lines is part of the event. The cost is $10 per museum member or member guest. Members may call (815) 397-9112 with any questions or to register.
Visitors to Midway Village Museum have the opportunity to see for themselves how war was conducted. Just hearing various languages spoken the reenactors is enough to transport onlookers into a different time and place.
Admission is $14 for adults; $12 for veterans and active military members; $8 for children 3 to 17; WWII veterans are free. Parking is free to members and $2 for non-members. For more information, visit midwayvillage.com or call (815) 397-9112.